Each December, my husband hefts a fir-tree over his left shoulder and carries it home. The last two Yuletides it has been wet and miserable, sideways wind and rain, yet he has done it anyway. We live in an area that offers free delivery of the Douglas Fir or Norwegian Spruce of your choice, yet he declines. My husband doesn’t dress in ratty clothes and play burly lumberjack for an afternoon to prove anything to himself. He is not the type of man who needs to chop or hunt or drag things back to his lair in order to reaffirm his masculinity. He carries the tree for one reason, and one reason only.
He does it because he knows it reminds me of when we met, when he was a young flower vendor who stood in the cold and sold birds of paradise to well-heeled ladies and high-heeled girls on the streets of London. He knows it reminds me of a time when his hands were rough and calloused and stained with resin, when our voices were rough and calloused from the cigarettes we smoked. A time when our hearts were rough and calloused from other break-ups, other loves and other hurts.
It reminds me of a time when we were still mapping out the details of our relationship. Back then the time between trans-Atlantic flights and nightly phone calls seemed to move slower than normal; concrete blocks attached to the second-hand of the clock. Now it seems we scroll through days and months and even years. We find ourselves sitting down in December, looking backward. Another year gone by in the blink of an eye.
Ours was a holiday romance. A love story bookended by pumpkin pie and champagne corks. We met on Thanksgiving and four weeks later I stuffed all my hope in a duffel bag with some jeans and flew to London on Christmas Day. He met me at the airport, those impossibly long legs of his dangling from the railing he was sitting on as he waited for me. As we drove through the streets of London, over what would become my favorite bridge, that little seedling of hope burst into full flower. Three years later, on the eve of a new millennium, he asked me to marry him as we stepped from one century to the next.
I’ve never looked back. Not once.
We have changed, of course. I am heavier and he is grayer. We’ve quit smoking. Had a few kids. Moved a few times. He’s gone from working on a flower stall on the King’s Road in London, rough hands and dirt stained jeans to working in an office for an international organization. I’ve gone from New York City girl, jaded and black-clad, hopping from one job to the next to quasi-suburban housewife. We’ve switched from beer to wine. We spend more money on cheese. Our social life is more Sunday dinners than Friday nights at the pub.
Yet, underneath it all is the boy I met that Thanksgiving all those years ago; the one who ate my pumpkin pie and knew his way around Shakespeare. Under the gray hair is the tall, lanky young man who met me at the airport on Christmas Day, sitting on a railing, legs dangling, a shy smile on his face. Our middle-aged (oh, how that hurts!) bodies are pockmarked by time, our hearts bear the scars of the times we’ve hurt one another. You cannot love someone for as long as this without leaving behind a few battle scars. His hands are not rough and calloused, my heart is not bruised. We are the same, but different. Better.
Years and vows and anniversaries later, he framed a print of Millais’s Ophelia, a nod to the night we met. And every year, despite the weather, we choose a tree. He hefts it onto his shoulder and I get all squishy inside, and fall in love just a little bit all over again, remembering.
Happy Christmas, my Flower Man. All I want for Christmas is…